Today, September 19, 2013 is the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節)! This festival is held on the 15th day of the eight month in the lunar calendar. I tend to think of it like Chinese Thanksgiving – a celebration of the end of the harvest.
An important part of the holiday is the moon. Traditionally, family members gather on this holiday to take in the light coming from the full moon, eat mooncakes and make offerings to the moon. In Chinese mythology, it isn’t a man on the moon, but rather a woman on the moon, and the offerings to the moon are a way of making offerings to her. She is known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality.
Giving and eating mooncakes are where most of my memories of this holiday lay and is what I look forward to most each year. Mooncakes are a round shaped pastry that have various types of filling inside.
The traditional one, the one that I most often eat, are filled with lotus seed paste and come with a egg yolk. I don’t like the egg yolk, but the older generation will tell you its the best part (blegh!) My mother loves the egg yolk, but I pick mine out and give it to her. The lotus is delicious though – slightly sweet, and a bit chewy. These cakes are not for the faint of heart! They’re high in calories and cholesterol, but since they come only once a year, I feel less guilty about eating them.
There are a variety of other fillings as well and they often varied depending on where you are in China. In modern times, they’ve also included more modern fillings such as chocolate, fruits, ice cream and other kinds of cake. Off the Great Wall, does a great job of breaking down the different types of cakes:
Another fun bit of trivia around the mooncake? According to a folklore, mooncakes were used as a means of passing a message during the 13th and 14th century by the Chinese to overthrow the Mongol rule. Information about an uprising was located inside the cakes and told people to gather on the 15th day of the 8th month.
Beyond the moon and mooncakes, Lanterns are also important during this holiday. They’re not just your regular lanterns either. They’re elaborate pieces of art that are molded into beautiful shapes and animals.
I have memories of lighting lanterns and parading them around the house and my yard. They came in different shapes – I distinctly remember having a rabbit lantern and a fish.
Of course every family and household celebrates this festival differently and each has their own traditions passed on from prior generations. Every year I receive a moon cake from my grandmother along with various fruits including a pomelo, which is another food that I associate with this holiday. I’ve yet to celebrate this holiday in Asia, but would love to see the larger celebrations there.
I’m looking forward to my mooncakes tonight. Go and grab one for yourself and try it out! If I was able to find them in Budapest, then you can probably locate one too. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival.